[Viewpoint] What is the government thinking?

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[Viewpoint] What is the government thinking?

Personally, I have deep respect for the Hong Kong government. It is not because Hong Kong is a world-class cosmopolitan city. It’s not because Hong Kong has a higher per capita income than that of Korea. It’s because the Hong Kong government is there for its people - and even its foreign residents.

In early December 2008, I was a Hong Kong correspondent and visited Bangkok. At the time, anti-government protesters of Thailand had seized Suvarnabhumi Airport, and the city of Bangkok was in a state of anarchy.

I then received a text message on my cell phone: “Mr. Choi, if you had missed your return date, go to U-Tapao military airport. A Hong Kong government charter plane will wait for you. If you have any questions, please call us.”

The U-Tapao military airport was about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Bangkok.

At first, I thought it was some kind of joke. I could not believe the Hong Kong government would use a charter plane to evacuate a foreigner from Bangkok, even though I had a resident visa for Hong Kong. I was curious and dialed the number at the end of the message. It was the Hong Kong government’s Immigration Department.

A public servant who answered my call replied very simply. “If you have obtained a permit to reside in Hong Kong, you are a Hong Kong resident. Of course, the government must be responsible for your safety,” the public servant said.

The Hong Kong government pays attention to its foreign residents’ safety while they were abroad. There is no need to ask what it will do to protect the safety of its own people.

I also envy the government of Singapore. It’s not because the public servants are transparent. It’s not because the government has world-class administrative competitiveness. It’s because the government knows the power of principle.

There was a famous incident in Singapore known as Fay’s case. It took place in 1994, but the case is still talked about. Michael Fay was a teenage American boy who had been found guilty of car vandalism and stealing road signs. It was a misdemeanor, but a Singapore court sentenced him to six strokes of the cane - which was later reduced to four - and four months in jail.

The United States was outraged, and the American Embassy in Singapore stepped in to seek leniency. Even President Bill Clinton called the punishment extreme and mistaken and pressured the Singaporean government to grant Fay clemency from the caning. And yet, Fay could not avoid the punishment.

Singapore was probably afraid of the diplomatic consequences, but I thought it was the power of principle that allows a small country to challenge a superpower.

I feel very frustrated about the Korean government.

Korea successfully hosted the G-20 Summit and is the 15th largest economy in the world. It has global companies such as Samsung and Hyundai and its culture and sports surprise the world from time to time. The U.S. president even praises the country’s educational competitiveness. And yet, the government’s existence such shrinks when it comes to North Korea.

I feel extremely frustrated. North Korea shelled 170 rounds of artillery on Yeonpyeong Island, 90 of which landed in the ocean, but the South only fired 80 back. And yet, the government still talks about “stern countermeasures” and “retaliation of many-fold.”

Korean soil and its people were attacked in broad daylight, but the Blue House announced that the military must avoid actions that would escalate the situation. I really feel frustrated.

When 46 sailors were killed in the Cheonan attack, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had said, “I will not sit with folded arms if anyone touches a leaf on our country’s soil.”

Where is he now?

Since the Korean War armistice, North Korea has staged 470 armed provocations, but the South Korean military has never reacted proportionately. It causes me to wonder, what it is thinking?

The government will probably say there is nothing for the North to lose, but so much for the South to lose if there were another war. The government will also say that it has to coordinate positions with the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

The government will say that it has to use “stern and restrained countermeasures,” although four Koreans died in the shelling that completely destroyed Yeonpyeong Island. Because the government will say so, I feel extremely frustrated.

Let’s go back to the Singapore’s Fay incident. When U.S. pressure grew, the Singaporean government said: “We may be a small country. But we will fail when our principles collapse. We won’t be able to protect the country and the people.”

What is the first principle for a government? It should say that there will be no negotiation and submission when it comes to the safety of the country and the people.

Let me quote the candid criticism by Grand National representative Hong Sa-duk toward the government to vent my frustration: “Let me say a word about those bastards at the Blue House who advised the president to say the situation should be managed to avoid a full-blown war,” Hong said.

“They must all be fired for advising the president to have such a weak response.”

*The writer is national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Hyung-kyu

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